Rock’n’Roll Finally on the Map in China; Only Took 35 Years


Rock’n’roll has traditionally always been held in low esteem in China, considered a cult for minorities. Now, however, it’s seeing the big time in the form of a new TV show, “The Big Band”, following in the footsteps of the rap and hip-hop TV shows of before. That the genre is late to the party illustrates its poor market in the spiritual and cultural life of young, contemporary Chinese.

Music TV shows such as“Rap in China”havemade western-pop culturewidely accepted by the Chinese public, and not just among young people. However, it has taken more than 2 years for people to realise that no media has bothered to promote rock’n’roll culture. As media and the internet prospered, amid the fierce competition of consumerism, the environment for rock’n’roll at the end of the 20th century completely disappeared, replaced by insipid pop music. But now, it is the time for change.

When rock music in China developed in the 1980s, along with the country’s reform and opening up, its wild personality and spirit were toned down or completely left out, until now. Then considered passionate, angry, restless and strongly subversive, it is generally believed that it was Cui Jian in 1986 who spoke for the first generation of Chinese rockers, with the song, “Nothing”, that became a milestone of Chinese rock. 

Later in the 1980s, Chinese rock bands sprang up, such as Tang Dynasty, Panther, Zero Point, Cobra and The Face. As the first generation of rock bands in China, they inherited the individuality and spirit of rock music of such in the West in the 1970s and 1980s, expressing their feelings, moods and confusion, dissatisfaction and resistance to real life through their music. The 1990s was to become the golden age of rock, before all but vanishing from the public consciousness.

Now, The Big Band this year brings such big names back on stage, in the process becoming a big hit online. That The Face is participating in The Big Band is an indicator of the show’s significance among audience and artists alike.

In contrast, much of the fear, anxiety and perplexity demonstrated by these godfathers is absent in the newcomers appearing on The Big Band. Instead, they sing of their individual and personal perspectives. Penicillin, a young Brit pop-style band, is reckoned as one with the most potential among the younger groups. It would be hard for those 1980s rockers to imagine having a year of overseas educational experience. Yet, Penicillin’s lead singer did just that, writing an award-winning song in the process; “A Rainy Night in Manchester”.

Gao Xiaosong, a Chinese critic, has said that the golden age of rock’n’roll has passed. True, but the new platinum era of rock is in the here and now, through shows such as The Big Band, perhaps this time to stay.

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Frank Hossack
Editor-in-chief and Music Critic, Frank Hossack, has been a radio host and producer for the past 35 years, the past 26 of which working in media in China, in the process winning four New York Festivals awards for his work, in the categories Best Top 40 Format, Best Editing, Best Director and Best Culture & The Arts. 贺福是我们杂志的编辑和音乐评论员,在过去的35年里一直从事电台主持和电台制片的工作。在中国有近26年的媒体工作经验。工作期间他曾经四次获得过纽约传媒艺术节大奖,分别是世界前40强节目奖,最佳编辑奖,最佳导演奖以及最佳文化艺术奖。